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Disabled student conditionally accepted into NDSU pharmacy program

FARGO -- Kelli Sem has been granted conditional acceptance to North Dakota State University's pharmacy program -- provided the disabled student can meet certain physical requirements.

FARGO -- Kelli Sem has been granted conditional acceptance to North Dakota State University's pharmacy program -- provided the disabled student can meet certain physical requirements.

Sem, who is from Minot, has been trying for months to get into the pharmacy program. She has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

She was notified last week that she is one of 85 students who has been conditionally accepted, provided she earn no less than a "C" grade in her required spring term pre-pharmacy courses.

"I actually got a 4.0 this semester, so that's good," Sem said, referring to a straight "A" report card.

"We still have the accommodation to worry about," she added. "We're hopeful they'll work with us."

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Sem is trying to work out an agreement with NDSU that would allow her to use an assistant to act as her hands to enable her to meet laboratory requirements, an arrangement she used in chemistry classes outside the pharmacy program.

Her cerebral palsy hampers her manual dexterity, making it difficult or impossible to perform certain tasks with her hands.

Sem met with NDSU's Disability Services, which said it couldn't devise accommodations until she knows what her classes will be, information Sem won't have until later this summer.

"Even to the uninitiated, that makes sense -- how are you going to know what accommodations you'll need when you don't even know what your classes will be?" said Scott Haider, a lawyer who has been helping Sem.

The North Dakota Board of Pharmacy, which was briefed on Sem's case, took a unanimous position that with certain reasonable accommodations she would be able to complete the academic program and gain a license despite her disabilities.

Since learning of Sem's interest in getting into the program, the pharmacy school at NDSU adopted new technical standards, adding physical requirements for the first time, Haider said. At least several pharmacy programs around the country allow students with disabilities similar to Sem's, he said.

"The hope is that her objective measures speak for themselves," Haider said, referring to Sem's grades and demonstrated ability to perform well in academics. "I would hope that NDSU does not want to be known as an institution that goes out of its way to discourage individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities to seek access."

The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education's standards specifies that a university's disability office, or its equivalent, should determine what constitutes a "reasonable accommodation" and provide support for the student, Haider said.

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Similarly, he said, the state Board of Pharmacy, in making its position known at a July 2014 meeting, "felt that a policy needed to be run by the disabilities experts."

Sadie Rudolph, a media relations coordinator at NDSU, said the university cannot comment on Sem's case because of a federal law protecting students' privacy and because of possible litigation.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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